When much of the country entered lockdown in March, some began questioning if a pandemic-driven baby boom — which sometimes happens as a result of staying indoors for extended periods — was a possibility. Some even insisted that people getting closer in quarantine could only lead to families expanding.
But data suggests that isn’t the case over 10 months after lockdowns first interrupted life, although experts say it may be too early to completely rule out an uptick in births.
At St. Mary’s Healthcare and Saratoga Hospital, fewer babies were born in November and December 2020 than in November and December 2019. At Bellevue Woman’s Center, fewer babies were born in 2020 compared to 2019 as a whole. St. Peter’s, providing pregnancy data from the Capital Region Midwifery, is an outlier, with due deliveries nearly doubling in December 2020 compared to December 2019, as well as in February 2021 compared to February 2020. January numbers were the same in both months.
Local town and city clerk data show a decrease in births as well. Niskayuna saw fewer births in November and December 2020 (149, 162) than in November and December 2019 (152, 165), while Amsterdam saw fewer recorded births in 2020 (363) compared to 2019 (424) as a whole. The city of Saratoga Springs saw 51 Certificates issued in November 2019, 54 in December 2019, 50 issued in November 2020 and 46 Certificates issued in December 2020, according to the accounts department. The city required a freedom of information law request before it would share the live birth records.
While several other factors go into these fluctuating birthrates, including the already declining number of yearly births backed by national data, local experts say the economic toll of the pandemic could be playing a role in the decrease in deliveries at most local hospitals.
“We anticipated a decline,” said Julia Shafer, MSN, director of Women’s Health Services at St. Mary’s Healthcare. “Families have had many worries about the pandemic, in terms of health, the ability to work, childcare all of these have negatively impacted financial resources, [which] has had a negative impact on the birth rate.”
Over at St. Mary’s, 36 babies were delivered in November 2019, while 25 were delivered in November 2020, according to Rick Hyde, director of marketing and communications. December 2019 saw 40 births, while December 2020 saw 30. Total births from 2019 to 2020 decreased from 422 to 361.
But this has been a trend even before the pandemic nationally, where the general fertility rate — the total number of births per 1,000 women aged 15-44 — gradually fell from 60.1 in the first quarter of 2018 to 57.6 in the second quarter of 2020. Experts say the national birth rate has been declining for roughly five years now, and say what we’re seeing locally isn’t entirely a result of the pandemic.
“Birth rates in the U.S. have been trending downward as our population ages,” Shafer said. “The pandemic has added to the decline. The stress of managing children’s education in the home, finding child care, and keeping the family safe and healthy have caused a great deal of stress. These additional burdens have led to higher stress levels for families in our area and families across the nation.”
Saratoga Hospital, too, recorded less births in November and December 2020 compared to 2019, although the difference wasn’t as dramatic, according to Peter Hopper, director of Marketing & Communications. In November 2019 and December 2019, the hospital had 52 births each, while in 2020, it saw 51 and 47 in November and December, respectively. At Bellevue, 2020 numbers reveal 56 less births than in 2019, falling from 2,083 to 2,027, a 2.7% decrease, according to Philip Schwartz, senior director of marketing and communications at Ellis Medicine.
While it may be too early to tell why birth rates are the way they are, it’s not uncommon to see a decrease during economic hardships, according Dr. Erin Bell, a professor in UAlbany’s Departments of Environmental Health Sciences and Epidemiology and Biostatistics.
“What’s unusual with COVID, is that it’s been a long-term impact and quite a substantial one that came on suddenly,” Bell said. “For COVID to have an impact, we would really want to look at the births that would have occurred over the summer and into the fall, the end of 2020.”
As for if we might see an uptick in births in the coming months, Bell said it is possible but not common.
“Because of all the factors that go into whether or not women are having babies — there’s the economic impact, there’s access to prenatal care — we don’t typically see an uptick when there is any sort of disaster or economic event,” Bell said. “It tends to be a decline initially and then a gradual increase back to the rates we saw prior to the event.”
According to data from St. Peter’s Capital Region Midwifery, however, due-deliveries increased from 22 to 42 from December 2019 to December 2020; remained the same in both January 2020 and January 2021; and increased from 23 to 44 from February 2020 to February 2021.
Shafer didn’t say if she was anticipating an increase in births at St. Mary’s, but said she’s hopeful about the coming months.
“I am hopeful that a steady recovery will come as the vaccine is distributed,” Shafer said. “With the recovery of the nation’s health, feelings of safety and security are expected to improve. This will help the families we serve and it would be wonderful to have an increase in the birthrate. Children are the hope of our future.”
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